Programmed input/output

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Programmed input/output (PIO) is a method of transferring data between the CPU and a peripheral, such as a network adapter or an ATA storage device.

In general, programmed I/O happens when software running on the CPU uses instructions that access I/O address space to perform data transfers to or from an I/O device. This is in contrast to Direct Memory Access (DMA) transfers.

The best known example of a PC device that uses programmed I/O is the ATA interface; however, this interface can also be operated in any of several DMA modes. Many older devices in a PC also use PIO, including legacy serial ports, legacy parallel ports when not in ECP mode, the PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, legacy MIDI and joystick ports, the interval timer, and older network interfaces.

PIO mode in the ATA interface[edit]

Until the introduction of DMA, PIO was the only available method.

The PIO interface is grouped into different modes that correspond to different transfer rates. The electrical signaling among the different modes is similar — only the cycle time between transactions is reduced in order to achieve a higher transfer rate. All ATA devices support the slowest mode — Mode 0. By accessing the information registers (using Mode 0) on an ATA drive, the CPU is able to determine the maximum transfer rate for the device and configure the ATA controller for optimal performance.

The PIO modes require a great deal of CPU overhead to configure a data transaction and transfer the data. Because of this inefficiency, the DMA (and eventually UDMA) interface was created to increase performance. The simple digital logic required to implement a PIO transfer still makes this transfer method useful today, especially if high transfer rates are not required like in embedded systems, or with FPGA chips where PIO mode can be used without significant performance loss.

Two additional Advanced Timing modes have been defined in the CompactFlash specification 2.0. Those are PIO mode 5 and PIO mode 6. They are specific to CompactFlash.

PIO modes
Mode Maximum transfer rate (MB/s) Minimum cycle time Standard where spec is defined
Mode 0 3.3 600 ns ATA-1
Mode 1 5.2 383 ns ATA-1
Mode 2 8.3 240 ns ATA-1
Mode 3 11.1 180 ns ATA-2
Mode 4 16.7 120 ns ATA-2
Mode 5 20 100 ns CompactFlash 2.0
Mode 6 25 80 ns CompactFlash 2.0

PIO Mode 5[edit]

A PIO Mode 5 was proposed[1] with operation at 22 MB/s, but was never implemented on hard disks because CPUs of the time would have been crippled waiting for the hard disk at the proposed PIO 5 timings, and the DMA standard ultimately obviated it. While no hard drives were ever manufactured to support this mode, some motherboard manufacturers preemptively provided BIOS support for it. PIO Mode 5 can be used with CompactFlash cards connected to IDE via CF-to-IDE adapters.

Device compatibility[edit]

Not all devices are compatible with the official PIO timings. An example is the Sandisk SDDR-89 ImageMate 12-in-1 card reader which uses the GL819 chip from Genesys Logic, Inc. That chip has slightly different timings for most of its PIO Modes.

PIO Mode 1 2 3 4 6
GL819 timings 399 ns 249 ns 183 ns 133 ns 83 ns
ATA & CF spec timings 383 ns 240 ns 180 ns 120 ns 80 ns

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Proposed 22 MByte/Sec ATA Timing Extension For ATA-3, January 1995, ATA-3 Extension Proposal